Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Four Green Fields - St Patrick's Day Out of Bogota

First - Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone out there!

 Today, in honor of St. Patrick's Day (and because it's the Saturday of a three-day weekend here), we headed out of the big brick sprawl and into the countryside to see some of Colombia's own green fields. On the drive out of Bogota, we listened to Irish traditional music and it got me thinking about the similarities between the two countries. Besides the obvious, the lush green landscape, I also thought of the histories of the two countries. The Irish speak of "The Troubles," and the Colombians of "La Violencia" - each a casual term for scars on their historical time lines. But today, as we rose out of the Sabana and over the mountain pass to the northwest of the city, past roadside grills, flower and fruit stands, cows in belly-high grass and small flocks of hens pecking in farmyards, the only thing "violent" that I could see was the way the Andean peaks burst from the valley floor in utterly vertical faces. The highway wound along curving cliff sides, and occasionally a portion of the road would be barricaded off after giving way to gravity and dropping off the side of the mountain. As we crested the pass and began descending towards the town of La Vega, the climate changed instantly. The green became more tropical and even over the music and the road noise, we could hear birdsong and could feel the humidity and warmth setting in. We dropped over 3000 feet in altitude and into the La Vega valley.

Once in the town, lined with stores selling inflatable pool toys and tourist hotels advertising swimming pools, we followed faded signs towards La Laguna El Tabacal. We'd read that it was a great spot for birdwatching and seeing all sorts of tropical flowers lakeside. The drive up to the laguna was only 7 kms, but the road hair pinned along the walls of the same mountain faces that we'd seen from the top of the pass. In one spot, an entire lane had given way and the other lane (the one we were on), was on its way to being undercut and washed away as well. The sign next to the gaping hole warned drivers  simply of, "Hundimiento" (dip, or sinking).  So  you can imagine what I was imagining when I rounded another corner and saw a sign that actually read "Peligro" (danger).  The road alternated between pavement and gravel many times, rising and dropping as it conformed to the unstable landscape, in places it appeared a pure miracle it still existed at all.

But the views were amazing!

We finally arrived at a pic-nic area with parking in a field for the laguna visitors. There were two mom-and-pop parillas (grills) offering the ubiquitous roasted chickens with criollo (baby) potatoes and sausages, plus a small camping area with somewhat soggy young campers cooking over their campfires. We ate our pic-nic lunch and bought the entry tickets and a little bag of fish food and headed up a stone-lined path for the lake. Immediately we could see brilliant yellow, red and blue birds flashing through the tree tops, and could hear cricket-like songs of tropical insects of some sort.

The Laguna El Tabacal is just a small lake filled with tilapia who swarm the lake edges, obviously well-used to the little paper bags the visitors bring full of fish-food pellets. We picked our way along the sides as far as we could until we came across an impassable rock wall and had to turn back. A light sprinkling rain started, but the tropical canopy was dense enough to keep us dry. We walked past bamboo groves (In Colombia? Yeah - I know, that's what I thought, too) and hillsides covered in massive philodendrons. Only two hours outside of Bogota, and a 100% difference in environment.

It was only fitting to spend St. Patrick's Day among the green fields (and in keeping with the day's patron saint - we thankfully saw no snakes).  I'll let the pictures below do the rest of the storytelling.

View from the road

Stems of tropical flowers
Laguna El Tabacal

Flower salesman
Lovely family and their puppies
Yeah - no kidding!

A new friend we met along the lake
NOT a snake!

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